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4 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Avengers: Age of Ultron
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by Peter Sobczynski

"A.K.A. Less Than Zero: Apocalypse"
4 stars

Although I have tried to resist it for as long as possible, I have finally begun to come to terms with the inescapable fact that for at least the next several years, hardly a month will go by without encountering at least one new movie based on a comic book--I believe Spider-Man will be involved with roughly 37% of those all by himself. I cannot say in all honesty that I am particularly thrilled with this turn of events but I am willing to at least tolerate it for the foreseeable future as long as the people cranking them out take care to at least include a smidgen of genuine personality amidst the inevitable scenes of oddly costumed goofs pounding the crap out of each other while the entire universe appears to be collapsing around them. Take "Avengers: Age of Ultron," the eagerly awaited sequel to the 2012 superhero mashup that is slipping quietly into a few theaters this weekend. As a combination superhero epic, sequel and presumed blockbuster, it contains many of the flaws common to each of those particular schools of filmmaking--it is too long, there are too many characters and subplots for its own good, most of the action set-pieces are too elaborately drawn-out for their own good and the entire enterprise lacks the freshness that made the first film so surprisingly appealing. At the same time, nestled in amongst all the elaborate spectacle are just enough moments of genuine wit and personality to make the whole thing at least reasonably palatable, even to those who could honestly care less if they ever see another superhero film as long as they live.

As someone who remains profoundly and somewhat proudly of most things related to superheroes, comic books and their ilk, I am naturally a tad fuzzy as to what is considered to be basic knowledge and what should be considered a spoiler so if you are particularly sensitive in that regard, you might want to set this review aside for now. As the film opens, the Avengers--Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)--have just recovered the Staff of Loki, a treasure that contains a jewel with unimaginable powers including an actual intelligence. Still jittery from the events of the first "Avengers" film, Stark decides to utilize the power of this jewel as the final touch to Ultron, his top-secret project to create a series of Iron Men driven by artificial intelligence to serve as "a suit of armor around the world."

Apparently Stark was too busy saving the world to have time to catch up with "Ex Machina" because no sooner do he and Banner secretly add the jewel's power to Ultron than it all goes wrong as it soon builds itself a robot shell, amasses top-secret information from around the world and acquires the dulcet tones of James Spader. Showing little respect for its creator, Ultron sets off on a plan to use his powers to create his own robot army and set about the complete destruction of both the Avengers and then all mankind in order to allow Earth to restart and evolve to a more elevated plane. Aiding Ultron in his quest are Wand (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro Miximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a pair of twin Eastern European refugees with special powers (she can mess with the minds of anyone she encounters and he is really fast) who might have been called "mutants" if that phrase were not under the control of a rival studio (instead, they are referred to as being "enhanced") and a specific axe to grind against one of the Avengers in particular. Then again, Ultron and his cohorts, also known as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, may not even have to lift a finger to bust up the Avengers as Stark's actions in devising Ultron have already uncovered a number of deep fissures within the group that will have to be resolved if there is any chance of them coming together in order to save mankind once again.

As I have pointed out in this column countless times over the years, I am not and have never been much for comic book movies as a whole. I can appreciate the undeniably great ones, such as the original "Superman," the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan "Batman" films and "Spider-Man 2," but the form as a whole leaves me cold more often than not because they generally tend to be the same movie over and over again and the insistence on the part of the films based on Marvel Comics properties to tie every single one of them together in some grand narrative means that you have to pretty much have a graduate-level knowledge of all the goings-on in order to have a firm grasp of what is going on at any given minute. One of the reasons that I enjoyed the original "Avengers" to the degree that I did is that even though I only had the faintest of ideas of how all the existing Marvel narratives and their extensive backstories pulled together, writer-director Joss Whedon nevertheless managed to juggle them all in a way that satisfied the hard-core fans as well as dopes like me by including moments of real with and character alongside to expected spectacle that was clearly of less personal importance to him. Although not perfect by a long shot, he still managed to pull a hugely entertaining movie out of what could have been an impenetrable mess and actually managed to include a personal touch or two in the process.

By comparison, "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is an even more immense enterprise--not only does it have to replicate the massive juggling act from the first time around, it has to contend with more expansive backstories for its characters and the massive expectations created by the success of the original--and the results this time around are somewhat wobblier. Since this film is meant to both sum up the last wave of Marvel screen properties and set the stage for the next one, Whedon is forced to do so many things in order to satisfy those needs--introduce a number of new characters, bring back others from the previous films in supporting roles (besides those already mentioned, there are appearances by Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard and the inevitable Samuel L. Jackson), explain the absences of those that couldn't be roped in even for cameos (such as Natalie Portman and Gwyneth Paltrow), squeeze in the inevitable Stan Lee cameo, juggle a bunch of subplots and lay the groundwork for future films--while leaving space for the extended action set-pieces that he hardly has time to present anything other than a perfunctory storyline, let alone the kind of emotionally and thematically complex narrative that made "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" one of the greatest shows in the history of television. As a result, there are times when he functions less as a director and more like a traffic cop in his efforts to keep things moving along. (There is much talk about so-called Infinity stones throughout and I could not begin to explain any of it if you put a gun to my head.) As for the scenes of spectacle, they are noisy and flashy as all get out but while they are all competently done, they never quite go beyond that and the grand finale--in which everyone does battle on a floating chunk of Eastern European real estate Ultron is planning on hurtling towards the Earth is a confusing mess that contains not a single particularly memorable visual.

These complaints are similar to those that I have had with most of the recent spate of comic book epics. The difference between "Age of Ultron" and those other films is that Whedon does manage to wedge in some smaller and presumably more personal moments here and there and those are the times when the film shines brightest. There are some very funny lines amidst all the heroic boilerplate--some slyly amusing (Stark describes a long night as having been "Eugene O'Neill long") and some cheerfully mock-heroic (Hawkeye's heretofore unknown wife (Linda Cardellini) pops up and delivers an inspirational speech that includes the deathless line "I totally respect your avenging")--and the moments when the action slows down and the characters are allowed to interact with each other are among the most memorable, including one great bit at the tail end of a long party where Thor's fellow Avengers try to lift up his mighty hammer. Whedon even manages to carve out a blossoming relationship between Hulk and Black Widow that resonates with surprising strength, especially considering the fact that such scenes tend to be the least interesting in this type of film.

Those scenes work in no small part because of the deft performances of Johansson and Ruffalo and indeed, it is somewhat absurd that a special effects blockbuster with most of its cast clad in absurd costumes can nevertheless attract some of the best actors around. Of the returning players, Johansson and Ruffalo come off the best but with the exception of Downey--who seems to be growing visibly bored at having to suit up for another high-paying exercise in high-concept silliness--they all have their moments to shine as well. Of the main newcomers, Aaron Taylor-Johnson makes little impact as Quicksilver while Elizabeth Olsen is better as Scarlet Witch, though both are hampered with accents that are questionable at best. The real scene-stealer this time around is James Spader as Ultron--if ever there was an actor born to play the part of a sardonically voiced robot whose contempt for humanity leads him to attempt to destroy the entire world, it is Spader and every time he comes on the screen, he gives an extra bit of juice to the proceedings. (Although they don't technically appear together in the film--except perhaps in theory--one could presumably look at this film as the long-awaited conclusion to the Downey-Spader trilogy that previously gave viewers "Tuff Turf" and "Less Than Zero.")

"Avengers: Age of Ultron" is not exactly a great film by any means--it doesn't quite live up to the expectations set by the original and I cannot immediately envision any situation in which I would be willing to sit through it again in its entirety anytime soon (except possibly in a vain attempt to get caught up around the time of the already-announced next "Avengers" film). Still, watching it did not aggravate me in the way that so many films of this type do and it was only towards the end that it began to wear out its welcome. Fans of the genre will no doubt eat it up and even those who aren't may find it unexpectedly meeting with their approval more often than not. I may not necessarily be looking forward to more of the Avengers (with the exception of a Black Widow spinoff), or any superhero movie for that matter, but if more of them were like this, the prospect of seeing another few dozen films of this sort might not seem so daunting.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24288&reviewer=389
originally posted: 04/28/15 16:40:51
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User Comments

2/20/17 Dave Entertaining, generic superhero rubbish. Don't expect too much 3 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell very good Ultron was awesome 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell very good Ultron was awesome 4 stars
10/06/15 oz1701 barely watchable. redeemed (but only just) only by spader's voicing of Ultron. 2 stars
8/25/15 Noice Another comic book waste of money, tired in every way 2 stars
7/16/15 Charles Tatum Appealing actors and nice effects, on par with first film 4 stars
6/04/15 mr.mike Better than the first one. 4 stars
5/24/15 dr. lao The poorly handled romantic subplot dragged it down a star 4 stars
5/15/15 Toni Peluso Not quite as good as the first... but loved it anyway 4 stars
5/11/15 Christian Paulson Fantastic, the only things I would change really couldn't be helped so stop hating. 5 stars
5/09/15 gilz very good. will need repeat viewing s. 4 stars
5/07/15 Taylor One of the most disappointing films ever 1 stars
5/04/15 Jack Not nearly as good as the first film. 2 stars
5/03/15 KingNeutron Has so much action that it will require several re-viewings ;-) Spader and Hulk were best 5 stars
5/03/15 RS Could hardly be better 5 stars
5/02/15 Bob Dog Bulk generic superhero product. 1 stars
5/01/15 Cooler One of the most disappointing sequels ever made 1 stars
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